What to pack for a cruise

Packing for a cruise? I think this is one of the least favorite tasks in preparation for cruising. Missing important things can really stress you out on your vacation.  We have prepared a complete packing list that you can download.  In fact, we have a few lists that will help you get ready for a 7 day Caribbean cruise, 3-day cruise to the Bahamas, 10 day Alaska cruise, or a 7 day Mediterranean cruise.  Knowing what to pack will help you focus on the fun things.

The way we travel

Honestly, I think lugging a big luggage bag around is not fun. We always try to fit everything we need in a carry-on suitcase (one for each person traveling) and a personal item. By packing less, we avoid the hassle of dealing with bags and save money on baggage fees that airlines have. While cruise lines will allow you to bring many bags (and some people do), you will have a lot more freedom if you only have one bag.

Few things to consider

Formal nights – Most of the cruise lines do have one or more formal nights. Typically cruises that are 3 or 4 days long will have one formal night, the 7-day cruise will have two, and 10-day or longer can have three. Some cruise lines may not have any formal nights. For example, Norwegian cruises have dress up or not night, where dressing up is optional. Even on the formal nights, it is your choice on how dressed up you want to be. We mostly travel on the Royal Caribbean cruise line, and I typically wear suit pants and a nice dress shirt.  If you are one of the people that really like dressing up, make sure you save room in your suitcase.  Also, you can rent a tux on many cruise ships if you want to be fancy.

Swimming – How much do you like swimming? Will you be hanging out in the cruise ship swimming pool or a hot tub? How many ports will have opportunities to swim? Do you have an inside or a balcony cabin? Personally, I hate getting into a wet swimming suit.  So typically, I pack 2 or 3 swimming suits when I am packing. It takes longer for a swimsuit to dry in the inside cabin than a balcony. I rarely use pools and hot tubs on the ship (they tend to be crowded), but I love taking a swim in the Ocean.

Medical Equipment – If you have a CPAP machine, Oxygen tank, or other medical equipment, you may have wondered if you can bring it on board.  The answer is, you can. However, you need to contact the accommodation department of the cruise line to make sure they know.

Alcohol – You may be surprised that some cruise lines allow you to bring wine onboard.  However, there are few limitations on the amount of alcohol you can carry onboard and where you can drink it.  Typically you are only allowed to bring alcohol on the first day boarding the ship.  Any alcohol bought at the ports of call will be taken from you upon boarding and given back on the cruise's last evening.

Exploring before or after the cruise – If you plan to fly in a few days before a cruise or stay after the cruise, you may consider packing a few additional outfits or checking if your hotel or vacation rental will have a place to do laundry.

Beach towels – You don't need to bring beach towels on the cruise ship.  Beach towels can be checked out from the cruise ship.  But make sure you don't lose them as there is a charge for lost towels.

Let's get packing

When we pack, we have one small bag (a personal item that can fit under the airplane seat) and a carry-on suitcase. One benefit of having a carry-on is not needing to check baggage in. A word of caution, though.  As airlines increase prices for checked-in bags, more and more people travel with carry-on bags. Depending on the number of passengers, you might end up having no choice but to check-in your luggage. I will have a separate post on protecting your trip to talk about insurance and the best credit cards for travel.  However, here I will just point out that it might not be a bad idea to have an extra outfit inside your “personal item” bag.

Personal item bag

  • All documents (Passports, photo IDs, boarding check-in documentation). I suggest getting a family travel document organizer to keep all of the documents neatly in the same place
  • List of important phone numbers – yes, I know you probably have them stored in your phone, but because of that, many of us don't remember those numbers by heart. Make sure you have a list of numbers in case of emergency
  • All medications and medical devices – make sure that all of your prescription and medical devices are in your “personal item.” Sometimes if the plane is too full, you will be forced to send your carry-on to the baggage compartment. Sometimes those bags will get lost.  It is tough to replace prescription medication or a medical device on short notice. Make sure that all of the medications are in the original container.
  • Valuable electronics (Computers, tablets, cell phones, camera)
  • Battery pack (travel days are long and you won't get to your stateroom tell way later in a day)
  • Valuable jewelry – While not recommended, you never want to put this in a bag that might end up being checked in.
  • Cruise line luggage tagsyou will attach those at the destination. They help make sure your bag is delivered to your stateroom.

If travel on the day of the cruise

  • Sunscreen (make sure it's travel size, so it doesn't get confiscated)- if you plan on arriving a day before cruise departure, I would suggest you get that in a drugstore before you board the cruise ship.

If you plan on bringing a swimsuit, it would be better to have them in the personal bag as you might not have access to the bags you check at the pier until later in the day.  However, you can wear a swimsuit underneath your clothing to save space in your bag.

You main bag

When planning on packing for a cruise, we will need to consider the ports of call and the number of days the cruise is.  The majority of the cruises are 7 days; however, there longer and shorter cruises.  Here you find general guidelines for 3, 7, and 10-day cruises.

Essential items regardless of cruise length

  • USB Charging StationIf you have multiple electronic devices, this is a lifesaver. Staterooms have very few outlets, and this charging station can charge up to 6 devices at once.
  • First aid kit/over-the-counter medicationIt's always a good idea to pack a first aid kit and over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol and Antiacids. While you can get that in the ship's hospital area, sometimes they will charge you for it.
  • Electric outlet extenders –  Like I said before, staterooms have very few outlets (usually 2 or 3), so having extenders might help you manage your daily charging needs. Cruise lines sometimes confiscate power strips, but I never had a problem with an extender.

What to pack for a 3-day cruise to the Bahamas

  • 3 pairs of Underwear
  • 2-3 shorts and 2-3 Shirts
  • 1 pair of dress pants and dress shirt/or suit (for a formal night) for men
  • 1 dress for women for formal night
  • 2 swimsuits
  • Dress Shoes/Casual shoes (for excursions)/Flip flops

What to pack for a 7-day Medetiranian cruise

  • 7 pairs of Underwear
  • 2-3 shorts 2 jeans (especially in the spring and fall) and 4-6 Shirts
  • 1 pair of dress pants and dress shirt/or suit (for a formal night) for men on the formal nights (I usually wear the same outfit for both nights)
  • 2 dresses for women for formal nights
  • Swimsuit (if you plan on going to the beach or swimming on the ship)
  • Dress Shoes/Casual shoes (for excursions)/Flip flops

What to pack for a 10 day Alaska cruise (you might need to have larger luggage for this one)

  • 10 pairs of Underwear
  • 2-3 shorts 3 jeans (especially in the spring and fall) and 7-8 Shirts
  • 1 pair of dress pants and dress shirt/or suit (for a formal night) for men on the formal nights (I usually wear the same outfit for both nights)
  • 2-3 dresses for women for formal nights
  • Swimsuit (if you plan on using a hot tub or pool on the ship)- they do usually have one in the enclosed location.
  • Sweater/Warm clothing especially if you are traveling in the beginning or at the end of Alaska season
  • Dress Shoes/Casual shoes (for excursions)/Flip flops

Other items to consider

You may want to pack an exercise outfit (if you plan on using ship gym or climbing)

Remember, less is more.  The goal is to bring the least amount of things you can.  I remember trying to haul two large suitcases in Barcelona after the cruise, swearing not to pack so much again. We packed so much during that cruise and only used one-third of what was packed.

You may consider packing a beach bag if space permits when you go on a Caribbean cruise.  It will make it a lot easier to carry towels from the ship and other essential items.

Make sure you either pack sunscreen or buy it before you board the ship. Sunscreen is very expensive in the cruise ship store or in the port.

Make sure you have a little space left in the luggage for souvenirs on the way back.

Don't bring an iron or any other prohibited items.  Make sure you visit your cruise lines website for a list of those items.  As it's often updated, it's best to check with them directly:

If you bring a young child on board, it makes sense to get diapers and other supplies before you board the ship.

While most cruise lines offer swim jackets for kids to use in the ship's pool, those won't be allowed to be checked out in port.  If your child is not a strong swimmer, consider getting a life jacket for your beach trip.  I recommend this life jacket.  Keep in mind it will take up more space in your bag.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I bring wine on a cruise?

It will depend on the cruise line.  Some cruise lines will allow bringing two bottles; however, you will have to drink in your cabin.  If you want to drink your wine during dinner, you will have to pay a corkage fee.

Can I bring beer on a cruise?

Typically that is not allowed.

Can I bring hard liquor onboard?

No, you are not allowed.  There are products  that can help you sneak hard liquor on board. However, typically, if you get caught, those will be confiscated.  When boarding the ship, your bags go through an x-ray machine to look for prohibited items.

Can I bring pop/soda on a cruise?

Depending on the cruise, you are allowed to bring a pack of soda on a cruise ship.

Can I bring my drone on the cruise?

Royal Caribbean allows you to bring a drone on board.  However, you are not allowed to fly on the ship or on their private island.  Make sure you check local drone laws before flying.  You don't want to miss boarding time because you are detained by local law enforcement.

Is there a limit on the amount of bags I can bring on to the cruise ship?

Typically there is no limit; however, keep in mind the staterooms are small, and having many bags in your room will make it hard to store them.

Can I bring water bottles onto the cruise?

What on the cruise ship is safe to drink.  With that being said, I never had an issue bringing a pack of water bottles on board.  I usually get those to take with me on excursions. You want to buy those before boarding as you won't be able to bring any additional cases in the ports of call.

Can I bring a stroller onboard?

Yes, however, you have to keep in mind that your stateroom is small.  Try to make sure you bring something that is easily collapsible.

Can I bring a wheelchair?

Yes, you can.  Make sure you reach out to the accommodation department of your cruise company.  Every cruise ship has few staterooms that are handicap accessible.  In many departure ports, you can rent wheelchairs or electric wheelchairs.  Reach out to the accommodation department of your cruise line.

What if my medications require refrigeration?

Accommodation departments of the cruise lines can deliver portable refrigerators to your stateroom.

How do I contact the special needs/accommodation department of my cruise line?

Here is the list of major cruise lines:

Carnival Cruise Line   1-800-438-6744 ext.70025  https://www.carnival.com/about-carnival/special-needs

Royal Caribbean Cruise line https://www.royalcaribbean.com/resources/guest-special-needs

Norwegian Cruise line (866) 584-9756  https://www.ncl.com/about/accessible-cruising

Disney Cruise line https://disneycruise.disney.go.com/special-services-information-form/

Can I bring weed on a cruise?

No, while some states may allow it, generally, it's not allowed on the cruise ship.  In fact, if you get caught, you might be referred to federal authorities.

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